Throughout Orwell’s Animal Farm one of the most prominent themes is that of the inevitability of class and social stratification and the problems of the working classes, especially in terms of their relationship to power structures and, in fact, it is not difficult to analyze Animal Farm from a Marxist perspective. The lower animals in Animal Farm by George Orwell who comprise the working class and who are not part of Napoleon’s intimate circle are hard workers and do not complain, even though they seem to realize that something foul is going on around them. Still, these lower classes in Animal Farm do not rise up and can thus be named as the major reason why the failed utopian social experiment of Animalism never worked.
Throughout Animal Farm another theme emerges; the idea of inevitable class stratification can be extended somewhat to include the idea that although the animals’ lack of realization about the verbal manipulation was genuine, that this was part of their characterization because of the belief that the working class is unable, despite its seeming might, to climb out from under repressive leadership. Although there are a number of issues relating to the power of language, rhetoric, and words in Animal Farm and education that will be discussed, the overwhelming sentiment at the end of the novel is that the lower class animals realize far too late what has occurred and thus no real change takes place throughout Animal Farm except for a variance in the faces that represent the leadership.
It is difficult to cast aside more critical biographical slants on Animal Farm by George Orwelland it must be remembered that this is a work that came out of the perceptions of George Orwell his of modern politics and society. The working class in Animal Farm is generally sympathetically portrayed, but not entirely. As this thesis statement for Animal Farm by George Orwell suggests, these classes are guilty of being like sheep in terms of following a leader and they rarely rise up or voice dissent despite the growing authority of the pigs. As one scholar notes of Animal Farm, George Orwell has a great many thoughts about the working class and their lack of potential. He writes, “He [Orwell] often praised the working class for their stoicism and hard work—but never for their intelligence or leadership. To his mind, workers were not just ordinary people whose education had often limited their intellectual horizons, they were inherently mentally inferior" (Pearce 47).
True to George Orwell’s views on the working class, the animals (except the pigs, of course) are prone to following what they are told and although they have the might, both in strength and numbers, they are incredibly docile and obedient. It is also worth mentioning that despite efforts to teach them to read, many were unable to learn and thus they could be taken advantage more often. One example inAnimal Farm is when there is a murder on the farm committed by one animal against another, even if it was to root out a potential traitor. Since there is a lack of education among the animals and the sense that they do not need to know anything beyond that which they’ve been told, they quickly forget that such a crime is an unforgivable offence once they are convinced they misunderstood the law in the first place. During this event, the reader is reminded in one of the important quotes from Animal Farm by George Orwell, “No animal shall kill any other animal without a cause. [But] Somehow or other, the last two words had been slipped out of the animals’ memory. But now that they saw the Commandment had not been violated; for clearly there was a good reason for killing the traitors who leagued themselves with Snowball" (Orwell 98). In this case the working class is ignorant because they cannot read and even more oblivious because they are unwilling to see that it was still a violation, even if it was to root out a possible traitor. Because they are so easy to manipulate, they are taken advantage of and for this reason the working class constitute the downfall of the whole experiment and will cause the crumbling of this experiment in the creation of a utopia in Animal Farm, even if it seems far from one.
The working class, represented by the majority of the animals, are shown to be at the lowest end of the spectrum throughout the book. By making them appear as such, Animal Farm seems to be making a statement about societal structure as a whole. It is difficult not to think of Marx and other social and economic theorists as the power center unfolds and then collapses, leaving the working class in its wake. It does not seem, however, that the Orwell wants us to feel particularly sorry for them throughout Animal Farm , but only to see that they have brought ruin upon themselves as a result of their lack of initiative and education. As one scholar notes, “Napoleon, the boar who lacks productive skills but is able to grasp power and subsequently becomes the net beneficiary of the socialized system, and Boxer, the horse who is endowed with highly productive skills but does not acquire power and gradually depletes his resources as the net loser in the system" (Hamlen 942). In many ways, Boxer is a symbol for the whole of the working class, not just in the novel but in real life as it has occurred throughout history.
Early in the novel, while Old Major is still alive, he tells the strong horse in one of the important quotes from Animal Farm, “Boxer, the very day your great muscles lose their power, Jones will sell you to the knacker" (10). This would have been seen as an ultimate treachery among the animals—an act of pure brutality on the part of the humans even though it is later another animal who does it to him. The death of Boxer in Animal Farm is symbolic of the attitude toward the working class—it is a symbol for the way once a worker is no useful or viable, he can simply be done away with. It did not matter that Boxer always vowed, “I will work harder" (36) or that he was the most active supporter of the “regime" because to them, his usefulness as a tool had ended and he was trash. The reader is not focused so much on the actual death of Boxer necessarily, but at the hypocrisy that surrounds it. It shows the other workers that even though he was committed to the ideals proposed by the leadership, he was expendable once his purpose was served. The social stratification that began with the overthrowing of Mr. Jones has once again worked itself out and come full circle and again, it seems that there must be a leader and some degree of oppression in order for society to function. Furthermore, it also seems that Animal Farm is expressing the view that there must be a class of workers who are useful only when producing and after that are expendable. Boxer serves as the greatest example because he was the most loyal to the ideas of the “revolution" and the end was proven to be unnecessary to its existence or survival.
As we have witnessed throughout Animal Farm there are a number of circumstances that arise that serve as allegories to past political or social events. The basic antagonism between working class and capitalist is even more strongly emphasized by metaphors. For example, “the diversity of the animal class, like the working class, is equally stressed by the differing personalities of the creatures. Just because all have been subjected to human rule does not mean they will act as a unified body once they take over the farm" (Letemendia 127). This observation backs up the statement made that Animal Farm is attempting to express the idea that these is something essential and inherent to the social stratification that occurs and that it was somehow unavoidable. This is made even more complicated by the fact that there is not a natural dominance of animals except for the fact of education and rhetoric. It might be natural for some of the animals to be followers while others are leaders, but the skillful speech of Squealer makes the playing field even more unbalanced. The pigs, under the cruel eye of Napoleon and with the silver tongue of Squealer, are able to maintain control through one mouthpiece. As it is stated in the book, “The others said Squealer could turn black into white" (11) and this he does rather successfully. It is Squealer’s role to ask as the propagandist of the farm and he makes them believe that they are all stupid and in need of guidance by turning around what they already thought they knew about animalism. At one point, after the pigs have violated one of the commandments about not sleeping in beds like humans, everything is clarified with the working class with a simple statement by Squealer. He tells the other animals, “You have heard comrades that we pigs now sleep in the beds of the farmhouse? And why not? You did not suppose, surely, that there was ever a ruling against beds? A bed merely means a place to sleep in. A pile of straw in a stall is a bed, properly regarded. The rule was against sheets, which are a human invention" (50). While it would have been easy for the animals (the working class) to rise up against this hair-splitting, they merely agree that Squealer is right. In the end, it seems that the masses are prone to believing anything as long as it is put to them well enough. This happens repeatedly throughout the book and is yet another reason for why thewhole failed utopian social experiment of Animalism fails. Furthermore, it shows the process of social stratification as it happens by demonstrating how the weaker parties can fall victim to those who are more powerful—even if the power lies in words.
The manipulation of words and the power of language in Animal Farm that lies at the heart of the animal’s downfall on the farm is expressed in many instances throughout the book. While there are a number of examples of Squealer or Napoleon turning language around to fit their own uses, there is perhaps no more powerful statement than that which twists the idea of equality itself around. When Napoleon states in one of the important quotes from Animal Farm that, “All animals are equal but some are more equal than others" … “Being ‘more equal’ means excelling in certain ways and being superior to others, just as the pigs in Animal Farm claim to be more equal to, and superior to, the other animals" (Kearney 238). It seems as though all of the wrangling of words throughout the book (mostly by Squealer or Napoleon) was leading up this final moment. Before this, only the smaller commandments were being violated such as the drinking of alcohol, for instance. By the point when this statement about equality is made, however, the lower class (working) animals have proved themselves to be so pliable that they will accept this twisting of the meaning of the word equality. When the ending lines, “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which" (139) occur, it is culmination of all the inequalities as the animals finally realize that they have fallen into the same system that was in place when Mr. Jones owned the farm.
One scholar makes a particularly arguable statement about the nature and the message of Animal Farmwhen he suggests, “Change is at the very heart of the novel. It is proposed by old Major, the white boar, when he first gathers the animals together and calls for a revolution. It is carried out in the seeming defeat of man at the Battle of Windmill and then in the final chapter" (Paden 49). The problem is, this book is not necessarily about change at all. Instead it is about the ineffectuality of change when dealing with social structures. From the first moment, when Mr. Jones is overthrown and the animals take over, the process of social stratification has begun. The working class animals are taught but are weeded out in a sense and tested with the skillful manipulation of Squealer. Eventually the leadership under Napoleon sees that they have nothing to fear from this working class and takes over completely, thus leaving the farm and its conditions in exactly the same sorry state it was in before the first chorus of “Beasts of England" was sung.
Hamlen, William A., Jr. “The Economics of Animal Farm.” Southern Economic Journal 66.4 (2000): 942